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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Finding Myself

By: Mark.

My first year of law school was coming to an end and although I had not seen my family--who I live with--in several weeks I felt sort of a comfort knowing that I would be spending a solid week with my kinfolk before I would leave them. I was going to Rwanda, Africa a place I never ever and I mean ever thought I would be, let alone for an extended period of time. To me this trip was just another one of my cool trips like the time I went on birthright to Israel or Brazil for the World Cup. I was not feeling weird or off by the fact that I was going to be living in a third world country; however, everyone close to me felt that and much more. But I guess that's just who I am: calm, cool, and collected. I was ready for the journey. I was ready to see a world I had never seen before and visit sites that I would never see again.

I landed in Rwanda and this is where everything went downhill for me, temporarily. My roommate and I had the genius idea of not leasing a place ahead of time because we didn't want to pay for a living space that we hadn't seen with our own eyes first. I mean it sounded like a great idea and honestly how hard could it be finding a place to live on your own in a country that you know no one in and know very little, if anything, about. So we booked a hotel for the first couple of nights thinking we would find a place quick and then be out of the hotel before we knew it. Well, we weren't able to book a place that first day, the one place we saw was rundown, had little to no amenities, and it was quite pricey so we passed on it. Besides at that point of our first day we were both exhausted and jet lag and decided to call it quits for the day. About three hours later everything started to go south for me. I woke up at around 2:00 am local time, and was on the hinge of a full-fledged panic attack. It was unlike me, I was not feeling like myself and I had no idea why. Was it because I had barely eaten? Didn't have an actual home? Jet lag? Was the idea of being an Africa actually getting to me? I did not know what it was but I really did not like it. My mind was racing and I thought I made a mistake to come out here. I thought to myself what was I doing I could be spending these months with the people I love most who I had barely seen this past year, and now I am gone again for two months. I got in touch with my immediate friends and family and they told me that I was overreacting I guess this whole new country thing was hitting me hard and fast. They said figure out your living situation tomorrow and everything would get better so I said ok and got what little sleep I could the rest of that evening.

The next day Ricky and I woke up on a mission to find a home. We quickly realized how much walking we would be doing and for a minute were thrilled about it because this was an opportunity for the both of us to get into shape, but that soon passed once we realized how out of shape we were. Eventually, we got in contact with a real estate agent that we had been talking with sporadically while we were still in Los Angeles and he showed us an open apartment. It was cozy, and better yet not too far from our place of work. More importantly, it was cheaper than the place we viewed the night before that was far, far worse in condition. So we took it. We didn't really have any other options and I just needed a place to settle down ASAP. We moved in and then we spent the rest of the day getting the necessities we needed for the home. We were told to go some market in city and we went. Things got really real really fast. We were in the middle of Kigali with vendors and loiterers everywhere, it was actually pretty fun. But my problem was I still was not myself. This was now the second day i had no appetite and I was really antsy. Again I just wasn't myself. I felt off and every little thing that would bring me joy was succumbed by this feeling I wasn't used to. That night again I barely slept, I think I got maybe 3 or 4 hours.

Now it was Monday and it was our first day working for the Chief Justice of Rwanda. That just has a nice ring to it. We met the Chief and he was a soft-spoken man but you could tell that he was someone who would choose every word very wisely. He had this particular aura about him that you couldn't help but be nervous in his presence. Since it was our first day he wanted us to start slow and he just gave us the task of reading the Rwandan Constitution. Sounded like a cool start to my internship, but minutes within the feeling inside of me just hit its climax. At this point I was fully depressed. I was sad to be here, which is weird because of how cool of an opportunity this was, and the worst thing was I didn't know why. I wasn't me and I was thinking this whole trip has to be a mistake. Then something clicked for me and I decided to look up the side effects for the malaria medicine I was taking, malarone. The side effects were insomnia, lack of appetite, stomach flu, and last but not least depression. I had pretty much checked off every box. And I didn't know what this meant. I started reading all sorts of articles about how people lost their minds on this drug and I said no way jose not me. Immediately I emailed Professor Gash and told him what was going on. We both decided that it was best that I get off the malarone before I made any rash decisions but truth be told I was ready to go home and leave this all behind. I hated how I felt and I wanted nothing more than to just be at home with my family. But I told him I'd do my best and get off the malarone and give doxy a couple of days as much as I was over everything about life at the moment.

The next morning was my worst morning of all the mornings in Rwanda to date. I decided to have a breakfast for the first time since Los Angeles so I got cup of cereal and milk. Instantaneously, my stomach had an adverse reaction and I got the stomach flu. I was in an excruciating pain and decided there was no I way I could go to work knowing that I could be dropping bombs left and right. Once the stomach flu hit I felt like the world was ending. I was thinking to myself things were just getting progressively worse for me. I was looking at changing my flight to the next day because it seems like nothing was going right. I was tired of feeling miserable and i was tired of whining to my close ones about myself and how I felt. It wasn't me and i hated it. So I spent this day at home I decided to watch one of my DVDs while i was running back and forth to the bathroom. I put on of my favorite feel-good movies "Money Talks." I don't know what it is about Chris Tucker but he just makes me laugh uncontrollably. The movie did its job I got my laughs in and my hopes up and was able to take a nap thereafter. I woke up knowing that I needed some fuel so I went to go grab a bit at a restaurant nearby known as "Mr. Chips- the place with the best burgers in Rwanda," and so far that claim has been spot on. But the best thing that happened that day for me was when I stepped outside. Although i hate that their is an uphill trek every time I want to leave my home and venture out into the city, our apartment is next door to a primary school. As I left, i saw a bunch of kids doing the very thing I love most--playing basketball. I don't know what it was but when I saw the kids just goofing around on the court I felt at home. Once I got to Mr. Chips I began to think about the opportunity I had in front of me. I was thinking that a lot of people back home are counting on me to do something otherworldly and come back to tell the story. You see I am a full-on Russian. Although, I have I've been raised in America and can't write in Russian, everything about me is because of my Russian background. The first good friends I ever made were Russian. My parents speak Russian, watch Russian TV, reminisce about Russia, and have the old-school Russian mentality well inside them. From everyone really close to me I am the first to do something as wild as go to Africa and live there for two months. I mean who I would I be if I just turned around because I felt miserable. Everyone was counting on me my mother, brother, aunt, father, and friends. So I told myself I'm going to keep going as long as I could and if it really was the malarone that was killing my vibe, literally, then hopefully I'd get it out of my system and get back to being myself, but if was not the malarone and its some other overpowering sensation then I'd have to go back home for the sake of my sanity.

Almost a week has gone by now and its safe to say that it was the malarone that messed me up. I'll be sure to tell everyone who ever thinks of taking malaria medicine to really know all the potential side effects of the anti-malarial they plan to take. More importantly, I got my appetite back, I am feeling more optimistic about things, and I am not as homesick as I was. I got my mojo back as they say. Although I know the rest of this trip won't be easy for me, but the important thing for me is that I am still here and still trying to make the best of it. Towards the end of last week i found a boxing gym and just yesterday I found a local park where the locals were playing pickup basketball. I was the only foreigner out their but everyone out there was speaking my tongue. For two and half hours all I cared about was winning the game just like everyone else. On the way back home from basketball, I was thinking about the fact that I was all the way in Rwanda. That feeling made me happy. Everyday I ride motos to commute and I love it. Its something I won't ever do back home. I think about all the adventures I have in front of me from safaris, to Uganda, to Zanzibar, and who knows what else and I say gotta keep pushing cause i gots more to see.